Sale of Cambodian breast milk to mothers in US criticised by UN

UN agency says trade sets womens newborns at risk of malnutrition as Cambodia moves to block further exports

The UN childrens money has strongly criticised the sale by a commercial company of breast milk donated by Cambodian moms to women in the US, cautioning it is unable to lead to the babies of poor and vulnerable girls becoming malnourished.

Unicef condemned the trade by Utah-based company Ambrosia Labs as the Cambodian government intervened. Cambodias customs department said the finance minister, Aun Porn Moniroth, had signed a letter blocking farther exports, in agreement with the Associated Press in Phnom Penh. Talks will be held to decide whether the business should be allowed to resume.

Breast milk is in great demand by women who cannot feed their own newborns in the US. However, Unicefs view is that their needs cannot be met at the expense of newborns in the developing world.

Breast milk banks should never be operated by exploiting vulnerable and poor women for profit and commercial purposes, said Iman Morooka, of Unicef in Cambodia.

Breast milk could be considered as human tissue, the same as blood, and as such its commercialisation should be banned. Malnutrition remains a threat to childrens wellbeing in Cambodia, and proper breastfeeding is one of the key factors contributing to small children good health and nutrition.

Even after six months, she said, Unicef advises that women should continue to breastfeed. It is recommended that all efforts are made to appropriately breastfeed children until the age of two years old, at least five times per day.

There is a substantial online trade in breast milk in the US, where women advertise their conveyed milk for sale. Many claim to eat only healthy food and be free from illnes.

Ambrosia, however, claims to offer a safer service, by importing breast milk on a large scale from women in Cambodia. The women are given blood tests to ensure they are healthy and the milk is shipped frozen and then sterilised once in the US.

Ambrosia was founded by two men, one of whom, Bronzson Woods, worked as a Mormon missionary in Cambodia. His co-founder, Ryan Newell, said the business benefited poor Cambodians as well as Americans and that they were applying for a licence.

The females they hire cannot donate their milk until they have exclusively breastfed their own children for six months, as the World Health Organization recommends, he said.

Were not taking away from those children, said Newell, from the companys offices in Orem, Utah, south of Salt Lake City. Were simply taking the extra that those mothers would be losing at that point if they start weaning their children.

Ambrosia Labs utilizes about 30 women in slum areas to donate milk. Without that income, they would have to go back to working in dres factories or end up on the streets, said Newell.

Weve been able to offer these women run where they are earning two to three times what they would be attaining elsewhere. Theyre able to stay home with their children more because they are not working the insane hours.

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